21 Quai de Bourbon Paris 75004
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I see an old photograph taken in Paris, my first thoughts are “Where was this taken” and ‘Can I see this same image through my camera lens today?”.
Maybe it’s part of my fascination with the idea that I am walking in the same steps of someone from the past, who although may be long gone- can still share with me this same setting (more or less) some 170 years later? I’m obsessed with the concept of “FIRSTS”, and I stumbled upon this photo (or Daguerreotype if you want to be precise) taken around 1851 by French photographer and artist Charles Nègre, who was noted for his preference of photographing the working class. (Hell yeah! A photographer of the PEOPLE!)
Remarkably, this is considered THE FIRST captured image of movement. These three youngsters are chimney sweeps, walking along the Quai de Bourbon on the northern side of ile Saint Louis.
I immediately analyzed this photo, looking for clues to give its precise location today. It means a lot more to me if I can pinpoint THAT EXACT SPOT. The paving on the wall has obviously been replaced. (But you know damn well I would have sought out these exact crevices had it not been) You can’t see much definition of the buildings in the background, located on the opposite Quai des Célestins- plus that area was largely leveled in the mid 1900’s. I looked for more info on the photograph and discovered that Charles had a workshop on the Quai at number 21. Presuming he took this photo not far from his workshop, this is the closest image I could come up with that did not contain trees.
TAH-DAH! Long before child labor laws, you can imagine these boys working under these hazardous conditions likely missed out on a childhood we take for granted today. I feel somewhat comforted that even if they weren’t aware in that moment of their participation in this FIRST, their suffering counted for something and here they are remembered in 2021.